Thursday, January 05, 2012

We Were Playing Yesterday

Corporate education reform types advocate for standardized testing as a way to assess learning. They seem to like the way the "data" from these tests can be distilled down into raw numbers, then easily charted, graphed, compared, and otherwise manipulated. Of course, much of what we learn (in fact, I would say very little actual learning) can be so easily quantified, so they're forced to focus their tests primarily on reading comprehension and math because those things reduce themselves most easily into numbers, ignoring pretty much everything else a child might have learned, including learning how to learn which is the most important thing to know. Here are a few examples of discoveries made through the process of free play that I observed in our classroom yesterday over about a 30 minute period, none of which will ever be measured by a test.


We were playing yesterday with colored magnetic "washers." 

It's a set with vertical dowels and cards with patterns. The idea is to try to match the pattern on the cards by stacking the washers on the dowel.  You're not just matching the colors, but also trying to match the spacing of the washers depending on whether or not you arrange them so as to attract or repel one another.  Some kids take on the challenge of trying to match the patterns. Others prefer to experiment on their own. 

Rex was doing it his own way, creating a tower with several gaps caused by the magnets repelling each other. He pressed down on the top of his stack of washers, compressing them, then letting them go, creating a kind of bouncy, spring-like effect. Finally, he released the compressed stack suddenly enough that the top few washers flew several inches into the air. He turned to look at me over his shoulder with a big grin, then went back to recreate the experiment several more times, proving it to himself.


We were playing yesterday with a sensory table full of flax seeds, magnet wands, and lots of little metal bits and pieces.

At one point I captured the bottom half of a metal tin on my wand and began using it as a scoop. I said, "Scoop, dump, scoop, dump," as I worked with my accidentally created tool. There were only a couple of kids there and they were busy with their own experiments. I stopped talking and started watching them.

After a couple minutes George was standing beside me. I used my scoop. "Scoop, dump, scoop, dump."

George grabbed a handful of flax seed. I dumped my scoop, but before I could dig back into the seeds, he filled it for me. I continued my pattern, saying, "Dump," then turned the scoop over. George filled it again. We did this for several cycles, "Scoop, dump, scoop, dump," the teamwork getting smoother each time. In fact, with each repetition George filled the scoop faster and soon we were operating like a well-oiled machine.

George shouted, "Three!" I guessed what he meant, holding the scoop out as he quickly put three fists full of the seeds into it. I counted his handfuls, "One, two, three, dump. One, two, three, dump." We then repeated this for several cycles, gradually getting faster and faster.

George shouted, "Five!"

And I complied, "One, two, three, four, five, dump! One, two, three, four, five, dump!" It was an intense minute or so. He was laughing as he did it, apparently losing himself for a moment in our game.

We continued for a couple minutes before he suddenly grabbed his own magnet wand and used it to "steal" my tin bottom.


We were playing yesterday with puzzles with metal bits on the pieces. The challenge is to use a magnet on a string to lift the pieces from their places. The kids didn't think this was enough of a challenge, so they started working on using the magnets on strings to return the pieces to their spots. It took a great deal of concentration and a steady hand. We started calling it "the hard way."

After having successfully restored the pieces to his puzzle Jody said, "I found an even harder way." He then got his magnet on a string swinging like a pendulum, carefully lowering it toward the puzzle until the the magnet was nearly touching the surface, when it got close enough, it suddenly leapt to attach itself to a puzzle piece. "That's the harder way."


We were playing yesterday with small building sets that feature powerful magnets under the boards. The magnetism allows the tiny metal bits to be arranged into structures and shapes that gravity does not normally permit.

Most of the time we create our structures by adding one metal bit at a time, but Finn piled all his pieces into a mound on the magnetic base, then used both hands to sculpt it into a shape as if it was some sort of stiff, unruly metallic clay.

He pushed and shoved the bits, finger-wrestling them, squeezing them, but when he let go, each time the whole thing collapsed. Finally, he said, "I have to hold it to show it to you."


We were playing yesterday with some magnetic letters on a sheet of metal. Or rather, I should say, no one was playing with them, but they were out and available. Nearby a group of kids were playing with the cardboard blocks, working together to build a house that wound up incorporating all of the blocks, leaving an empty cabinet.

At one point I cruised by where they played to find three kids sitting in the cabinet. They were giggling. They told me that this was the bathroom and they were all sitting on the toilet. Later I came by and found all the magnetic letters in the cabinet.

This time they explained, "This is our food." Calder objected, "No, they're letters." River replied, "They're letter food!" Luca picked up an E, saying, "I'm having an E for lunch." The others appreciated the joke and they each retold it, going through the alphabet one bite at a time.


We were playing yesterday with cardboard boxes . . .

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chelle said...

Cool Stuffs! ;-)

Sonya at The Three Bears Get Crafty said...

Never underestimate the power of qualitative data. :)

Anonymous said...

So awesome. I wish your school was on the eastside (and that I had known about it BEFORE my youngest was almost out of prechool). -Melanie (mom to 6 and 4 year old boys)

Anonymous said...

What has happened to play and the rest of what corporate reform has done and is doing to childhood has not been inevitable. Even teachers at my school talk about how things have changed in the past 10 years, as if it were inevitable and organic. Some of the kindergarten teachers in my building have simply adjusted with sadness. Head Start has become a job of forms and kindergarten readiness, and kindergarten has become a very academic 1st grade. More and more of the drudgery of school keeps getting piled on, and too many parents, teachers, and principals have not said enough is enough.


Colleen said...

I love this! I wish I lived in a place with a preschool like your school and a teacher like you. I am a 12th grade teacher on a leave of absence while my 2 boys are little. I taught science at a project based charter school. We never had to teach to standardized tests We were required to have our students take the California state tests and they did well even though we didn't focus on them.
I am deeply concerned about the continued focus on standardized tests as a measure of school 'success' and student learning.
I love the way you tie in preschool learning to education as a whole. It helps me to bring my 'teacher' mind into the day-to-day engagement with my own preschoolers.

Lauren said...

Luckily, I do think a lot of preschools have started "figuring it out"and at least children's first few years can be amazing and a time where they get what they are needing and wanting simultaneously. I think for a long time elementary schools were doing better then preschools or daycares at meeting children's educational needs and now it has swapped. When we know better we do better, and I'm hopeful that as this group of children in schools get older everyone will realize that this isn't the way to accomplish raising children that we want to be able to be functioning members of our society. As an adult I haven't had to "take a test" in over 10 years. I have, however, in even the last 10 minutes had to know how to compromise, how to be sympathetic, and how to communicate my feelings to someone other then myself. But who knows if I did those things will a passing grade :)

Unknown said...

Learning through play is the very best way, isn't it?

rappin' rise said...

Do the "colored magnetic washers" have a name I can google and hopefully purchase online? It sounds like an activity my 3 year old would really enjoy.

Rachel said...

such a lovely lovely free play :)